England has survived a late Tongan comeback to advance to the Rugby League World Cup Final, with a 20-18 win in Auckland. The match at Mt Smart Stadium was filled with loud and passionate Tongan supporters, but their beloved Island nation could not pull off a miracle. England will face Australia in Brisbane next Saturday night to decide the winner of the tournament.

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Tonga’s World Cup dream finally concludes

Every game has seen Tonga exceed expectations in some way. Fans have involved themselves at such a huge level, and the play from Tonga has grown by the week. Unfortunately for the Mate Ma’a, the fairytale ended at the hands of a better disciplined and professional English side. As the tournament has moved forward the teams’ success on both sides of the ball has improved, as well as their resilience which was on full display against the Kiwis. A bitter end should only be met with admiration for what Tonga have achieved, and they have made the World Cup a pleasure to watch.

Widdop stars at fullback

After a solid outing against Papua New Guinea in the quarter finals, Gareth Widdop rose to the occasion and became the catalyst for England’s victory. The opening try saw Widdop involve himself in multiple ways. A great inside ball from James Graham to Gareth Widdop put him in a hole and off on a great run, and the next set Widdop assisted Jermaine McGillvary over the line for England’s first score. Widdop scored a try of his own in the 16th minute, capping off England’s strong attacking play in the first half. His goal kicking proved the difference in the end, and a selection at fullback for the final will be on the cards again.

Mistakes overshadow Tonga’s performance

As much as England did a tremendous job, especially in the second half to withstand the Tongan attack, a bunch of errors and unnecessary penalties saw the Tongans shoot themselves in the foot. Early on a brain snap from Michael Jennings saw one of their best opportunities for a try disallowed, when he offloaded after a completed tackle. Daniel Tupou dropped the ball cold for a walk over try in the second half and multiple ruck infringements gave England great field position and extended their sets. Their defence was good at times, but discipline seemed to be Tonga’s Achilles heel.

Hodgson injury could be costly to the spine

Although the final is next weekend, the injury to Josh Hodgson may have predetermined the result. A man who has been arguably the Canberra Raiders’ best player for two years now has been an orchestrator for England’s attack. Hodgson limped from the field midway through the first half with a knee injury and did not return, and is now in doubt to start for England in the Final. One silver lining however is the strong tournament from James Roby, and his strong work from the ruck whas made him a terrific replacement if need be.

 

Scoreboard:

England: 20
Tries: McGillvary (10m), Widdop (16m), Bateman (67m)
Goals: Widdop 4/4

Tonga: 18
Tries: Pangai Jr. (73m), Havili (77m), Lolohea (78m)
Goals: Taukeiaho 3/3